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Archive | Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

Who was that?

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Do you know what type of bird this is? Check out Ranger Steve’s tips on what to look for. Answer is in the article. Photo from the Audobon.org field guide.

Do you know what type of bird this is? Check out Ranger Steve’s tips on what to look for. Answer is in the article. Photo from the Audobon.org field guide.

A brown sparrow-sized bird captured my attention. A luminescent white shown from its throat. Narrow black lines framed the white on sides and bottom. Have you identified the bird? Noticing key field marks, in a short time, is often essential because many birds do not stay in easy view. 

The bird was in the willow thicket at Ody Brook. Several were present. It was early October when flocks of birds move through on a southward journey. I could eliminate most choices. Clearly, it was not waterfowl, and shorebirds tend to be along water edges or wading, so I can rule those out, except for possibly the Killdeer. Killdeers have departed, so that is not a likely choice. Shorebirds, like killdeer, stay mostly on the ground and this bird was on a shrub branch.

Large birds like gulls, grouse, hawks, and doves do not fit this observation. When trying to identify, narrow choices by selecting from a sparrow, robin, or crow-size. Then consider habitat and eliminate waterfowl, if you are in a forest or shrubland. Some waterfowl, like wood ducks, could be in a tree, so do not be so absolute that you rule out those you are looking at. Some species are unlikely to be in Michigan, so you can eliminate species restricted to dry arid deserts along the Mexico/US border, or other habitats not found in Michigan.

There are good bird field guides for Michigan, Eastern North America, and North America north of Mexico. Some popular Michigan bird field guides are incomplete so I suggest getting one that is most inclusive, instead of only having common birds. Some guides are much better than others.

The bird in question moved from the willow to a speckled alder. It faced me, showing a plain gray breast with no striping. Its bill was short and thick. Eliminate birds with thin bills like warblers and kinglets as well as flycatchers that have long point bills. Have you figured out the bird from the characters provided?

As the bird looked at me from the alder branch and turned its head, I could see white stripes on its head running from the beak to the back of the head. A neon yellow spot between the bill and eyes was evident in the sunlight. In shade, the yellow was not obvious. Perhaps you have figured it out now. If not, pause here, get a bird field guide, and find a sparrow-sized bird, with white stripes on the head, yellow by the bill and eye, white throat, thick short bill, plain gray breast, brown back and legs for perching on twigs.

Check if the bird you are considering is here all year or migrates. If it migrates, is it here in summer, or does it nest farther north, in places like the boreal forest? This bird happens to be a boreal nester so we would not see it during the summer months. That is not evident from our current observation, but maybe you noticed a bird with such a description was not seen all summer.

It has one of the most beautiful songs but is usually quiet during fall migration. Its musical song is a favorite sign of spring and offers wonderful joy to one’s spirit when heard. Sometimes one will let loose its song in fall or part of its song. It is described as reminiscent of the words “Old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody” and belongs to the white-throated sparrow. Canadians prefer “Oh My, Canada, Canada, Canada.”

Start with yard birds you regularly see in your neighborhood nature niche to discover unique feather color patterns, size, bill, and leg characteristics. Many birds change plumage with the seasons, but some do not. I enjoy watching birds in the yard and at the feeder more than television so I usually wait to watch TV until after dark. Listening to music CDs is a nighttime pleasure also, so as not to interfere with the activity and music abounding from the depths of the wild sanctuary where I live.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net. Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Fall Ephemerals

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller


Fall has a resurgence of some spring activity but has its own unique ephemerals. Anxiously we wait for the fall color pageant. By August, cherry trees were dropping red and yellow leaves and sugar maples began releasing some green leaves.

The Michigan Botanical Club visited Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, on September 19, and witnessed 1200-1500 Clouded Sulphur butterflies flying over and among Frost Asters, in the field. Of the 40 people present, most said they have never seen so many butterflies in one area. It was a great, moving experience lasted through most of September and continues into October. After killing frosts, asters are mowed annually, in late October, to prepare the area for the ephemeral spring mating display of American Woodcocks. Also present were some Orange Sulphurs that hold off making an appearance until late in the year. We work to manage the sanctuary for greatest habitat biodiversity.

Fall flowering species of showy yellow goldenrods were observed in sunlit openings. Ragweeds with small unnoticed green flowers bloom at the same time. It is ragweed’s ephemeral, small, lightweight pollen carried on the wind that causes “hay fever.” Unfortunately, many people blame goldenrods because their fall ephemeral flowering occurs at the same as ragweed. Goldenrod pollen is large, heavy and falls to the ground. Goldenrod depends on insects to carry its pollen to other flowers and is not a source of “hay fever.”

A small fall resurgence of spring flowering maiden pinks shows pink petals with white dots and fringed petal tips. As daylight hours shorten and night lengthens, spring and summer plant physiology is confused and causes a slight increase in plant hormone levels that stimulates some out-of-season flowering. It is normal for fall flowering plants to have their full plant hormones increase late to stimulate fall flowering. Spring flowering plant schedules are completed because of earlier hormone peaks but a hormone resurgence stimulated by night length similar to spring brings about some out-of-season blooming.

Even animals like spring peeper frogs have a late season hormone rise that stimulates some breeding behavior. One will hear scattered peeping throughout the woods but the frogs do not migrate to their essential fishless breeding vernal ponds to lay eggs like they do in April and May. Gray tree frogs call with their short loud trilling burst from the woods. Of course, deer begin their ephemeral rut.

Bird migration time varies among species and is partly driven by hormone level changes. Many shorebird species migrate south as early as July. Warblers move through from August to October. Interestingly, it is the first year young birds that come through ahead of parents.

Bur Oak is an ephemeral of centuries, with its coming and going in Michigan, where remnants still survive. It has become less common due to habitat change. It thrives and reproduces best in grasslands, with widely scattered trees known as savannas. It has adaptations to survive periodic fires. We have largely stopped wildfires and the tree is in decline as savannas disappear. With periodic fires, savanna habitat supports conditions where this species can increase.

Nature niches have yearly ephemerals and others that occur over centuries (probably not technically classified as ephemerals). Some species are “ephemeral” that come and go over centuries, depending on adaptations to events like essential fires. Our lives are too short to witness all the ephemeral wonders around us.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Birds plummet to the ground

OUT-Nature-niche-Ranger-Steve-Head-ShotBy Ranger Steve Mueller

After supper at about 7:20, I sat on the back the porch. There was little bird activity. A lone darner dragonfly was hunting at tree top height. Small birds too high to identify flew over. A robin, hummingbird, and morning doves perched in the trees.

Suddenly there was commotion in a tree top and a bird appeared to plummet to the ground. A Sharp-shinned hawk had a Mourning Dove in its talons. The dove struggled but did not get free. The hawk was immature, with dark barred feathers running vertically on its light breast. Adults have transverse bars across the breast.

The young bird began plucking feathers from its prey in preparation for dinner. Feathers were flying in all directions. The hawk’s tail raised in the air and I saw tail feathers were all the same length. That confirmed it was a Sharp-shinned Hawk instead of a similar looking Cooper’s Hawk.

Cooper’s Hawks have tail feathers that are successively shorter outward from the center of the tail. The Sharp-shinned’s tail feathers are all the same length and make the tail appear squared at the end instead of rounded. Sharp-shinned hawks are slightly smaller but size is hard judge. The head on Sharp-shinned is not as bulky as that of Cooper’s.

Suddenly more commotion while the hawk was plucking its prey. The hawk must have loosened its grip and the dove escaped. I thought the dove was dead and maybe the hawk did also. The two were about 50 feet from me, as I watched the drama with binoculars. The hawk pursued the escaping dove and the dove managed to bank to tall grass and irises by the porch, about 15 feet from me. The hawk was right on its tail, but the dove entered and hid in the vegetation. The hawk attempted to reach the dove as it moved to protect itself and the hawk jumped backwards.

I could not see the dove in the vegetation. The hawk moved around the clump figuring out how to recapture its prey. Though I was sitting 15 feet away as still as a statue, the hawk saw me. The hawk’s attention was divided between me and the dove. The hawk was nervous with my presence and flew up and landed on our picnic table. It continued to watch me while I pretended to be invisible.

The hawk flew to a low branch on a dead ash tree in the yard. A Mourning Dove perched at the top of the tree departed. The hawk surveyed the area and must of have felt too threatened by my presence to return to the grass clump for its dinner. It flew over the house and out of sight.

I felt badly for the injured dove and would prefer the hawk had killed it for a filling meal. By departing, the young hawk will need to capture another live bird. I went into the house with hopes that hawk would return to finish what it started before it was completely dark.

Hopefully the young hawk learned the hunting lessen that it needs to kill its prey before plucking feathers. I once witnessed a Peregrine Falcon capture a dove and it almost immediately opened the skull and began eating the brains. It left plucking for later. This young bird might go to sleep hungry because darkness was closing the day.

We attract birds to seed feeders and hawks to feed on live birds. People generally do not mourn the sunflower seed embryos eaten by birds but they mourn the loss of birds we feed. In healthy nature niches, there is a place for seedeaters, and for predators that eat the seedeaters. When niches are healthy, there is an abundance of life to provide nourishment for migrating hawks that need adequate energy for their southward migration.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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River fishing challenges

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Fishing inland lakes in summer and ice fishing in winter is wonderful outdoor exposure. It’s a joy to look through the ice hole and observe swimming fish. Ice shanties create a dark room and sun filtered through the ice lights the water. The hole resembles a TV viewing screen. I find joy watching fish and catching them.

Now is a time when anglers crowd the rivers to catch fish swimming upstream. I am an infrequent angler and had little experience river fishing until I was teenager. At age 15, my older brother took me fishing to Fletcher County Park, near Alpena, and it became an annual Memorial Day weekend event.

At that park, I learned an important fishing lesson. Many Northern Pike were just under the size limit and needed to be released. It was fun for me to reel in a fighter big or small. I am sure that is not what the fish considered a good time. I prefer continuously casting my lure instead of sitting with a static line waiting for fish to bite. I am too antsy. Watching a bobber is not the best time for me.

Thunder Bay River flowed into and out from Sunken Lake. We floated the rowboat downstream to where we thought “the big one” would be lying in wait for its next meal. It was a great place to perfect casting skills. Too long a cast would land on a log; too short would not reach hidden hollows where fish were waiting; and too far to the left or right was not suitable for fish to hunt their prey. My older brother, Mike, was excellent at casting. Whatever he did was always better than I could do. I think that is true of older brothers in general (true or not).

As we floated down the lazy river, we would cast to where we thought fish were waiting. I hooked one and the fish decided it was not going to be landed. One must not to exert too much instant pressure on the line or it might snap. I kept constant pressure on the line and reeled the fish closer as it fought for freedom with powerful “fish moves.” Gradually the fish exhausted and was drawn close to the boat.

When it was close, I released some line and the fish took its chance to escape. Mike, with shock, said, “What are you doing?!” I said I wanted to play the fish longer. He said, “You cannot do that.” Instantly I learned why. The fish immediately swam to an underwater log and swam around the log. The log now caught me on one end of the line and the fish on the other. Mike rowed to the log that was submerged near the water surface. We could see the fish on a short line unable to get away.

It was near the water surface and Mike was able to net it. We landed the fish and prepared it for dinner. Mike explained more do’s and don’ts for fishing while we enjoyed a Northern Pike dinner. We enjoyed bass, sucker, and pan fish dinners on our fishing weekends. We smelt fished the Great Lakes. Each fish species has unique habitat requirements for temperature, depth, vegetation, currents, and prey.

The fish we catch taste better than those caught by other people. When one spends time exploring fish nature niches to learn behavior, selected habitats, and experiences time in beautiful wild places fishing, it adds flavor to the meal. This makes the fish we catch the best tasting. It is a psychological benefit that transposes to our taste buds.

I learned to never allow slack in the line because the fish will seize the escape opportunity. We were lucky to eat the fish that taught me a lesson. It is good for people to learn where fish come from. Too many people think they come from grocery stores or fish markets instead of rivers, lakes, and oceans. We cannot protect habitats if we do not know them from personal intimate outdoor experience. Go outdoors.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Big Year Birder Speaks

By Ranger Steve Mueller


The Big Year movie showed in area theaters in 2011, and featured Greg Miller, played by Joe Black, in the movie. The movie was about three men trying to see as many bird species in one year as possible. Each hoped to see more than anyone else had seen in one year. People found the movie fun and comical despite it portraying a real life serious experience and quest. The Grand Rapids Audubon is hosting Greg as speaker on September 28, 2015 at 7:30 p.m. in the Wege Auditorium on the Aquinas College Campus.

The Audubon club invites us to enjoy this entertaining speaker describe his quest to surpass seeing 700 species of birds in one calendar year, by traversing the continent in his quest. The motion picture entertained many in our community, and, if you missed it, I suggest you rent and view it prior to Greg’s talk at the end of September. The actors Steve Martin and Owen Wilson portrayed the other birders in the quest. Come to Greg’s presentation, where he will relate some of the hilarious stories about his journey and tell of his role as movie consultant.

A free-will donation at the door is encouraged to defray the speaker fee and to support Audubon club bird conservation and education efforts. For more information, you can contact John Chronowski at vice.president@graud.org.

The GR Audubon presentation will be at the Wege Student Center on the Aquinas College Campus at 1607 Robinson SE to accommodate a larger audience. The Wege Student Center is accessible from Fulton St on the north and from Robinson Rd on the south. Parking is available in Lots A and B on Fulton St and in Lots L and M on Robinson Rd. I approach Aquinas College from the East Beltline by taking Lake Michigan Ave to Robinson.

For those of us that watch and pursue birds, the birding quest is familiar, but to others it is a not. My sister-in-law saw the movie and asked if people really do this. Like any hobby, some people take great effort to be among the best in their pursuit. Personally, I am more casual about my pursuit but I do try to notice as many bird species as possible. This year, my list is over 350 species of bird species sighted and that is not an easy number to see in one year.

In my personal quest, I try to learn the habitat for each species and observe its strategies for survival. Where does it spend most of its time and what food is it eating? Does it associate with particular plants in its nature niche? Where does it nest and what foods are preferred during each month? What are spring arrival and fall departure dates? Natural history questions continue to challenge our observation skills.

I seek similar quests for butterflies, plants, amphibians, mammals, and even fish. One of my college professors commented that what he remembered most about me is that I am a generalist. As a generalist, it is impossible to excel in any one area, but I am most satisfied with connecting the lives of all organisms in an ecosystem, and thus claim to be an ecologist. We each have our personal quest but I am greatly looking forward to hearing Greg discuss his quest that he refers to as “My Big Story.”

My big year will never approach that of serious birders like Greg, but mine helps me learn about the birds encountered and aids my understanding for how ecosystems function. I will greatly enjoy learning how Greg enjoys nature and his great knowledge of birds. Come for an entertaining evening.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Guided discovery hike


By Ranger Steve Mueller

Brad Slaughter, from Michigan Natural Features Inventory, will be at Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Drive, to lead a walk on September 19, 2015, from 1:30 to 4 p.m. Dennis Dunlap will be leading a part on mushrooms and Ranger Steve will contribute regarding ecological relationships. Come have an enjoyable time learning with family members and friends.

Mark calendars to explore the sanctuary with the Michigan Botanical Club that is hosting the discovery hike. Park at V&V Nursery and we will depart on the walk at 1:30. We appreciate them hosting parking.

The ecology walk will examine mushrooms and plant identifications, and their associations with birds, insects, mammals, amphibians and more. The 61-acre sanctuary includes “the big woods,” field/shrubland, wetland forest, stream and ponds. Trails traverse wetland over two bridges that cross Little Cedar Creek and upland habitats. We will examine plants with a 10 Co-efficient of Conservatism. That almost always indicates plants restricted to an undisturbed/pre-settlement remnant.

Come see what might be the largest American Chestnut of your life time. One of the sanctuary’s chestnuts has a diameter of 3 feet. We found a young two-foot tall chestnut so the large tree is reproducing. There is at least one other large chestnut.

Recently a mink crossed the driveway and a weasel was seen twice during mid July. Mink and weasels usually stay hidden. A Great Blue Heron and Green Heron are often seen. Pileated Woodpeckers are working the trees. There are always new discoveries every time one ventures into nature niches and most are related to plant communities. This guided walk is free. Donations to support the sanctuary management are welcome. This will be wonderful opportunity to become familiar with the Michigan Botanical Club. They welcome new faces to enjoy the outdoors with them.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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American Chestnut


By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller


Benefits of the American chestnut tree were important for building United States society but a disease, unknowingly imported across the ocean, has mostly eliminated benefits. This happened to elm trees when Dutch elm disease was imported. Recently this occurred when the Emerald Ash Borer beetle was imported in 2002. Our livelihoods, economy, and landscape ecosystem functions are dependent on preventing exotic species from becoming established in native nature niches.

The rapidly growing chestnut was highly valued as a durable wood. Important uses included tool handles, furniture, doors, plywood, poles, fencing, railroad tires, and tannin. It had little shrinkage, minimal warping and good gluing qualities. The tree provided fruit that was roasted and sold in markets.

American chestnut trees (Castanea dentata) were a co-dominant species in the oak-hickory-chestnut forest that extended from Maine to Alabama and from the Atlantic Ocean to Michigan. Now the forest is referred to as oak-hickory. Southeast Michigan was the western range limit for the chestnut. Individuals at the edge of their range are considered ecologically important because they seem to offer more hope for adaptive genetic change. Fringe individuals might be better able to survive in new and changing environments. Their DNA might provide what is necessary to help the species survive in a changing world provided the living conditions do not change too rapidly.

Introducing new diseases that a species has never experienced is often devastating. It is a major reason Native American populations died when diseases like small pox were introduced by Europeans to America. Disease introduction to the American chestnut caused it to disappear from most of the landscape and ceased its function as an important ecological contributor in the eastern deciduous forest.

Fortunately, there were individuals that survived for some reason in outlying areas of the species range. The reason for survival has not been clearly determined. One factor could be fringe range individuals might have genetically variability that helps survival. Natural abundance ended in southeast Michigan but individuals lived farther west and north in Michigan. I have seen American chestnuts in Saginaw, Grand Traverse, and Kent Counties as well as many other counties. It is especially considered a rare sighting to find a large chestnut because few survive the disease to reach large size.

A fungus blight (Endothia parasitica) introduced from eastern Asia in the early 1900’s arrived in imported exotic chestnut tree species and devastated the ecosystem. The blight affected countless species beside humans that used the American chestnut trees for survival. We worry about diseases like Ebola and a variety of diseases that might challenge human survival. Diseases that challenge the survival of chestnuts, elms, and ashes also have great ecological significance on biodiversity. Other species like Purple Loosestrife, Garlic Mustard, and Phragmites crowd native species and eliminate them from healthy nature niche communities.

Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary is home to a large reproducing American chestnut that has a diameter of three feet. Hope continues that a disease resistant variety might be able to help the species reclaim its place the Eastern Deciduous Forest.

Help species survive by planting native species to help them and associated animals thrive where you live. Remove invasive exotic species. Encourage landscape nurseries to avoid selling species that crowd out native species when they escape the garden or yard. There are non-native species suitable for the garden and yard that are not invasive. Invasive species are harmful to society’s economy, livelihood, and functional ecosystems. Nurseries sell products to make a profit and choose stock that customers purchase. You determine the biodiversity we pass on the future generations by what you purchase and plant and whether your yard is maintained to encourage native species.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.


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Sky Fire

Nature-Niche-Ranger-Steve-Head-ShotBy Ranger Steve Mueller


We each have the privilege of being born during a special time. The events surrounding our personal birth vary and add spice to ones personal life history. I was born during the most spectacular meteor shower of the year.

The Perseids Meteor Shower provides a fiery light show to mark my birthday or so it’s fun to believe. Of course scientific evidence does not demonstrate such a relationship but we can each believe what we desire despite evidence to the contrary. We tend to place our own lives at the center of the universe and we like to think all that happens revolves around us.

When we take time to examine our place in the great scheme of things, we discover we are not the most important in the universe even though we tend to think we are. When we live well, we find we can be important to others and that we can improve the lives for all around us. We can be a shooting star that brightens the lives of others or we can stay focused on our own perceived self-importance and self-interest.

Imagine the light from shooting stars during the Perseids Meteor Shower as shimmering light reflecting a person’s good deed done for another or someone’s soul traversing into the great beyond. We can create stories that enthrall our imaginations, pleasure, and desired beliefs. Such stories move our hearts and spirits in ways that science does not and make for the best and most appealing “Hallmark” stories.

Science, however, provides a more accurate account of how nature and its processes work. Such explanations have their own charm and lead to great discoveries. If it were not for scientific discoveries, we would not have recently received pictures of the surface of Pluto. Scientific discoveries from the space program have also improved our daily lives here on Earth’s surface.

The reason the Perseids Meteor Shower occurs in mid August has to do with our planet traveling around the sun once a year. When it arrives at the same location in mid August each year, the Earth collides with debris left by the comet when it passed. Comets, like planets, have an orbit around the sun. Their orbits are greater than planetary orbits and often require hundreds or thousands of years to make a trip around the sun.

Where the comet’s path crosses Earth’s orbit, debris is left in space. When the Earth passes where the comet traveled, it collides with debris left by the comet. Earth’s gravitation pulls debris toward the Earth causing it to heat, glow and vaporize on its descent through the atmosphere. The average size of a “shooting star” is five ten thousandths of an ounce (.0005). That is about the size of a sand grain. We see the flash of light as it vaporizes 50 to 75 miles above the Earth’s surface.

Meteors or “shooting stars” can be seen any night of the year but more occur when Earth passes where more debris is present. The peak of the Perseids shower occurs between August 11 and 13 in celebration of my birthday. Everything in the universe revolves around my life or maybe it’s around your life.

Well science is not personal but that does not stop us from making things personal, fun, and meaningful in ways that enrich our existence. Take time to enjoy all aspects of nature niches from soil particles in your yard to specks of dust in outer space. Our limited presence in time is as fleeting as a shooting star’s when compared with the five billion year Earth history. Take advantage of the wonder and joy in each fleeting moment of life.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Where are the Orioles?

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller


Unexpectedly, male Baltimore Orioles disappeared from a reader’s feeder by late July. Females increased. He (Egan) wondered what caused the change. He thought maybe this year’s young resemble females and that would account for the apparent increase in females. He was correct about the immature birds.

During breeding season, more colorful males help with rearing the nestlings. They bring insects and continue to drink nectar at feeders and eat oranges. With seasonal progression, behavior changes.

Orioles begin migrating south in late July and August, but some will be present throughout August. Changes in male behavior make them less conspicuous after young fledge the nest. Adult males become more solitary and feeding locations change. They feed on protein rich insects hidden in the upper canopy of trees. We need to search high tree foliage where it is difficult to view birds.

Orioles feed heavily on caterpillars and take fuzzy hairy ones that many birds avoid. They also eat beetles that become abundant mid to late in summer. They eat a native plant fruit that becomes ripe during late July and August. It is good reason to use little or no herbicides and pesticides.

Baltimore Orioles, like most songbirds, have altricial young, meaning they hatch blind and naked. They require complete parental care that includes frequent feeding and heat from the parent. The young cannot regulate body temperature for days after hatching. They easily become hypothermic or hyperthermic and die from cold or heat exposure if the adult does not sit on them or shelter from heat. Altricial birds are one of the few vertebrate animals that do not have cute babies.

Scientists study orioles to understand evolutionary origins of species. Physical structure (morphology) including feathers, bones, and organs are used along with behavior natural history (ethology) of feeding, nest building, migration, and mate selection. In the 1970’s, the western Bullock’s Oriole was combined with Baltimore Oriole and the two were considered one species called the Northern Oriole. If you have an older bird field guide, it might list the local species as Northern Oriole.

Bullock’s and Baltimore Orioles where found to interbreed when they came together where humans connected tree habitat by planting trees across mid-America. That caused us to determine they were one species because their offspring could survive and reproduce fertile viable young, unlike clearly separate species like the horse and donkey that produce infertile offspring called mules. Later studies demonstrated that the two birds do not normally interbreed and ethological behaviors keep their genes isolated. Near the turn of the 21st century, the advent of genetic DNA sequencing demonstrated distinct differences and additional ethological studies resulted in the two bird populations being separated again. Science is self-correcting as continued research provides additional evidence. Many species demonstrate close relatedness (missing links).

Greater depth studies of morphology (physical structure), behavior, natural history, and genetic sequencing help scientists develop phylogenetic trees (cladigrams), better known to most of us as genealogy history charts. For general human use, we go to geneology.com. but to discover species relationships, scientists use a larger body of evidence. The result has been the discovery of species connectedness often referred to as “missing links” supporting evidence for evolution. Studies have become valuable for understanding evolutionary history of genetic immunology and advanced medical applications. Recently my column described how cardio glycosides from milkweed are sequestered in Monarchs and the chemical has been used to save human lives when used to correct irregular heat beat. Nature niches have relationships refined through evolutionary adaptation. There are never ending opportunities for discovery. Have fun observing unique relationships among organisms in your yard.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Citizen Science Butterfly Count


By Ranger Steve Mueller


On July 12, area citizens gathered to count butterflies on the Rogue River Butterfly Count. The previous nature niche article explained how butterfly surveys might save human lives by monitoring population trends for species useful in medical discoveries.

Community members are encouraged to join on the counts to learn butterflies and their association with local nature niche habitats. The counts are fun ways to get outside, enjoy nature, and learn from those knowledgeable about butterflies. The information gathered on counts has broader human health benefits explained previously.

On this year’s Rogue River count, we saw 35 species (Table 1). If you did not join on the count, consider participating next year. Join the West Michigan Butterfly Association for $5 to stay connected (www.graud.org/wmba.html). If exploring wild areas is not your style, allow your yard to support native plants that attract butterflies. Native species of violets support a variety of fritillaries, legumes support sulphur butterflies, sedges and grasses support skippers, and mustards support whites. Some species have very specific host needs while others can use a variety of plant species. Ornamental plants have limited value for supporting healthy local nature niches. Ask local nurseries if they sell native genotype plants when you select plants for your yard. Patronize nurseries that have native genotype species for sale. We use both native and ornamental species in landscaping. Find a healthy balance.

At Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, we have seen 62 species of butterflies. That is more than one third of all the butterfly species known to Michigan. Your yard can be a haven for mammals, birds, amphibians, and insects if you allow native plants to thrive.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319. 616-696-1753.

Download the results here: RogueRiverCt Sheet1.pdf

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